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Rory Hale still keen to land two medals in first season with Crusaders

Rory Hale impressed at Derry City last season but has been a major hit with Crusaders

Toals Bookmakers Co Antrim Shield final: Crusaders v Linfield, (tonight, Seaview, 7.45pm)

CRUSADERS midfielder Rory Hale is hoping to land a cup double and help secure European football at Seview in his first season at the club.

The former Aston Villa player has been an instant hit since joining the Crues on a pre-contract deal in January after a successful year with Derry City.

Hale has slotted into the defensive midfield role and has been a regular since hooking up with Stephen Baxter’s squad.

The north Belfast native is bidding to win his first medal in tonight’s eagerly anticipated Co Antrim Shield final at Seaview (Crusaders won a toss of a coin for home advantage) before turning his attention to the club’s Irish Cup semi-final against Coleraine at the end of the month.

Crusaders have lost all three league games against Linfield – twice suffering defeat at Seaview – but they knocked David Healy’s men out of the Irish Cup sixth round after extra-time.

Hale has played against Linfield twice and was hugely impressed with their solid defence.

“The two games I’ve played in, Linfield got an early goal and they’re very well organised,” said Hale, whose grandfather Danny Hale was a Crusaders legend back in the 1960s.

“It’s hard to score against them once they get a lead. In the Irish Cup game against them we went like for like, 4-4-2, and we attacked them with ‘Cush’ [David Cushley] and Ronan [Hale, Rory’s younger brother] up front and we really took the game to them from the first minute. We scored two screamers in extra-time to go through. So the two fixtures I’ve been involved in it’s been end-to-end, non-stop.”

“But Linfield have won the first trophy of the season, the League Cup, which will give them more confidence.”

The league title is virtually out of reach for the third-placed Crues who trail leaders Linfield by 14 points.

“The Irish Cup is our main priority now because that clinches European football for us,” explained Hale. “We’ll still be pushing for second place and two trophies – we want to win the Irish Cup and the Co Antrim Shield. That would be a brilliant first season for myself.”

After leaving Aston Villa, Hale had a spell with Galway United before Kenny Shiels signed him for Derry last season.

An offer was made to the 22-year-old to stay with the Brandywell club but a better deal was on the table at Crusaders.

“I got a new contract offer from Derry but I’m at a club that is competing for every single trophy, and they were offering me a better deal,” he said.

“Derry was brilliant but the away games were tough. I just wanted a change of scenery and when you’re obviously offered a better contract and a club closer to home, it was hard to turn down that kind of opportunity.”

Since becoming available for selection in January, Hale has been a mainstay of the Crusaders midfield, delivering some high class performances.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “There is good morale around the dressing room and they’re all sound lads and credit to Stephen [Baxter]; he’s put me in and I’ve played every game since I became eligible. I couldn’t be happier.”

The Crues are seeking to retain the Shield after beating Ballymena United in last season’s decider.

Paths to the final:

Crusaders

Round One: Crusaders 2-1 Knockbreda

Round Two: Crusaders 4-3 Cliftonville (aet)

Semi-final: Crusaders 1-0 Larne

Linfield

Round One: Linfield 2-1 PSNI

Round Two: Linfield 2-1 Glentoran (aet)

Semi-final: Ballymena United 1-2 Linfield

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